Created by Gabriel Cortez, Jada Imani, Preeti Vangani, Sandy Vazquez, and EJ Walls of Youth Speaks as a response to the global pandemic — COVID-19 — and recent “shelter in place” ordinances, these prompts provide resources for young people to reflect, ground themselves, and find moments of inspiration by putting pen to page during this time of rapid change. As we distance physically, we uphold connection by inviting youth to use their lives as primary texts and document what their world looks and sounds like in this moment.
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- Spot one item in a common area of your space/home that is often overlooked. What does it have to say?
- Spot another item that is often overlooked in your space/home. What would a conversation between the two sound like? Write about it.
- While rearranging your space, you lift up the sofa cushions and find something you hadn’t even noticed was missing. What is it? How did it get there? Where should it be?
- What is one item in your place of residence that you use every day? Write about spending a day without it.
- Interview an elder in your space/home and ask them the following:
- What is the meaning behind their name? Who named them and why?
- Who inspired them when they were growing up?
- What type of person did they decide they wanted to be in the world? What did the world decide for them?
- What’s a household story you can’t get away from? Write about a story that is repeated where you live. How did it really happen though?
- This prompt is a variation on an activity Preeti’s teacher, D.A.Powell, recently had his students do. Observe a tree that you love or that is accessible to you at the moment. At a fixed moment each day, spend some time looking at it and write a few lines. Keep adding to those lines each time you sit with the tree. You needn’t compulsively track the aging or condition of the tree. Feel free to journal how your mind and heart feel being in the same place over and over.
- What is your dinner time like? Does dinner take place at one time, or not? Is it in one room or multiple?
- What’s a staple food item in your space/home and how is it cooked? What does it taste like on your best day and worst day?
- Many grocery store shelves have been emptied by panic-buying in response to these uncertain times. But many of us live in environments where it seems the grocery stores are missing entirely or if the shelves are full, they are filled with food that is slowly killing us and giving us type 2 diabetes. Write about the substance that is missing from our shelves and our streets. How would you make a food desert blossom? For inspiration, check out the work being done by the People’s Kitchen Collective.
- Being isolated at home can be a huge disruption to the business of our daily lives. In 200 words only, make an inventory of the things you most miss or cannot do. Maybe use anaphora and see how a repeating word or phrase changes up the mood of your inventory.
- Notice how the room you are in wears the light during the parts of day you aren’t usually at home. Or the sudden disappearance of hand sanitizer. Write an ode (a poem of praise) to something that you’ve recently learned to appreciate for new reasons.
- Let’s think about voices. Whose voice did you hear this week? What were they talking about? What words did they use? How did they say it? And whose voice do you miss? Write a piece entirely in the voice of someone you love.
- Write a poem as a letter to someone you haven’t corresponded with in over six months. It could be someone from your phone contact list, a cousin or friend you’ve lost touch with. For inspiration, check out these letter poems that two beautiful poets, Ada Limon and Natalie Diaz wrote as responses to each other from their travels post the 2016 elections. If you have a writing buddy, maybe start off a similar thread?
- Write a poem as 20 lines of dialogue with the last person you video called with.
- Make a list of all the ways your body can be vulnerable – physically, socially, emotionally. And now think and write about all the ways you care for it – big and small. Option: Try this as a sonnet.
- Think about the ways this time has asked you to stay rooted or grounded in place. If you were to root yourself in one spot in your current space, what would you bloom into? Would you be a fruit tree, a bush of toilet paper, or a potted plant that doubles as an air purifier and a portkey (Harry Potter reference, what’s up nerdz)? The possibilities are endless!
- Take a moment to sit or stand still, close your eyes, and listen to the world around you. Notice what sounds/movements the life around you makes– maybe it’s a sibling laughing, your own heart beating inside of your chest, the neighbors stomping in the apartment above you, or someone slapping music hella loud in the next room. Pick one these sounds or movements and write from the perspective of that thing. How does it choose to adapt?
- Write about at an activity that you do 100% by yourself. Maybe playing a video game or going for a run or spending hours with your coloring book. Write about that process, take us on the ride of that experience. This poem, Happiness by Paisley Rekdal where she talks about her love for gardening, always makes Preeti feel centered in joy and concentration.
- Despite the apocalyptic mood outside, we can’t help but notice it is also now spring. How about taking time off the screens and thinking about your favorite season? This poem by Nikki Giovanni might lead to some rich ideas. Give it a go.
Poems To Inspire You
“Wash Your Hands”
by Dori Midnight
“A sister-friend of mine sent this to me Monday March 16th, the first Monday of ‘shelter in place’. To me this poem was an offering of love and guidance during this strange and challenging time.” – Jada Imani
“Doin Alright” (Lyrics)
“I don’t know who put me onto Cunninlynguists in high school, but these cats became one of my favorite underground hip-hop acts. “Doin Alright” was written to express gratitude for what we have, what we’ve experienced, and what we’ve already survived through, during times when the future of the world is uncertain. Mr. SOS and Deacon the Villain process how they navigate through apocalyptic predictions and dystopian fascination by holding on tight to what they know is real and what they know they can find love in.” – EJ Walls (Sin Q)
“The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On”
by Franny Choi
“I was introduced to this poem by my partner, Natasha Huey, who shared it at an online workshop she led for The Root Slam. I think it’s dope how Franny Choi names a history of times the world ended. In naming all these times the world ended, there is also a naming of the things we’ve survived.” – Gabriel Cortez
“How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse as an 82 Year Old Guatemalan Grandmother”
by Melissa Lozada-Oliva
“I’ve always appreciated this poem for the ways it names resistance in unlikely ways. It feels especially resonant at this time, to me, because so much of the media makes this pandemic feel like an apocalyptic thing. I really love the way Melissa plays with humor as a means of grounding oneself in survival too.” – Sandy Vazquez
by Paisley Rekdal
“I heard this poem in an interview that Paisley Rekdal was doing, and when she read it out, it felt like the whole world had stopped and all we could see was a woman at work in her garden, soil a and green and life. I love thinking about stillness and how we can take pride and joy in the work we do.” – Preeti Vangani
by Nikki Giovanni
“This poem with its spare words and short lines transports me to the abundance of any season. How easy to have a rich and full and plural experience.” – Preeti Vangani